John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, a former US senator, and a war hero, has died after being hospitalized for more than a week, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Glenn, 95, was at the James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State University but did not necessarily have cancer, university spokesman Hank Wilson told Reuters in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
“When you’re 95, it’s always considered serious,” said Wilson, who did not have further details about Glenn’s condition at the time.
Glenn had a knee replacement operation in 2011 and underwent heart surgery in 2014.
Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth, doing so three times on Feb. 20, 1962. He also became the oldest astronaut ever, returning to space at the age of 77 on October 29, 1998.
Born in Cambridge, Ohio, Glenn served in the US Senate as a moderate Democrat from Ohio from 1974 to 1999.
NASA quickly offered its condolences via Twitter, signing off with the Latin phrase Ad astra, which means “to the stars”:
We are saddened by the loss of Sen. John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth. A true American hero. Godspeed, John Glenn. Ad astra. pic.twitter.com/89idi9r1NB
— NASA (@NASA) December 8, 2016
The White House also released a full statement about Glenn’s death:
“When John Glenn blasted off from Cape Canaveral atop an Atlas rocket in 1962, he lifted the hopes of a nation. And when his Friendship 7 spacecraft splashed down a few hours later, the first American to orbit the Earth reminded us that with courage and a spirit of discovery there’s no limit to the heights we can reach together. With John’s passing, our nation has lost an icon and Michelle and I have lost a friend. John spent his life breaking barriers, from defending our freedom as a decorated Marine Corps fighter pilot in World War II and Korea, to setting a transcontinental speed record, to becoming, at age 77, the oldest human to touch the stars. John always had the right stuff, inspiring generations of scientists, engineers and astronauts who will take us to Mars and beyond–not just to visit, but to stay. Today, the people of Ohio remember a devoted public servant who represented his fellow Buckeyes in the U.S. Senate for a quarter century and who fought to keep America a leader in science and technology. Our thoughts are with his beloved wife Annie, their children John and Carolyn and the entire Glenn family. The last of America’s first astronauts has left us, but propelled by their example we know that our future here on Earth compels us to keep reaching for the heavens. On behalf of a grateful nation, Godspeed, John Glenn.”
Glenn’s other extraordinary feats as a human being and nonagenarian include, according to the Dispatch, NASA, the International Space Hall of Fame, and other sources:
- was married to his surviving wife, Annie, for 73 years
- flew 149 combat missions in World War II and the Korean War
- logged roughly 9,000 hours of flying time
- didn’t give up flying until the age of 90
- was the last surviving member of the “Mercury Seven,” the group of astronauts that pioneered human spaceflight for NASA
- his first words in orbit were, “Zero G, and I feel fine.” (February 20, 1962)
- spent 218 hours in space, orbited the Earth a total of 137 times, and racked up over 3.6 million miles’ worth of space travel
- during his 1962 flight, he famously carried a note in his pocket that read, in several different languages: “I am a stranger. I come in peace. Take me to your leader and there will be a massive reward for you in eternity.” (in case strangers recovered his space capsule in the South Pacific)
- after retiring from the Manned Spacecraft Center (in 1964) and the Marine Corps (in 1965), he served as a business executive for 9 years until being elected to the US Senate
- fought against the rise of nuclear weapons as the chief author of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978
- his many awards and accolades include:
Distinguished Flying Cross (six times)
Air Medal (with 18 Clusters for his military service)
Navy Unit Commendation (for his service in the Korean War)
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
American Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal
China Service Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Korean Service Medal
United Nations Service Medal
Korean Presidential Unit Citation
Navy’s Astronaut Wings
Marine Corps’ Astronaut Medal
NASA Distinguished Service Medal
Congressional Space Medal of Honor
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Watch NASA’s classic video about Glenn’s historic orbital flight below:
Via Dave Mosher, Business Insider and Reuters
Rebecca Harrington contributed to this post.